What are you about?

It's a simple question really, although one that might be difficult to answer:  What are you about?  What defines you?  What is unique about you?  What makes you who you are?

Jamie asked this question of herself on her blog, which got me thinking about what I'm about.

I'm about Jesus, and I'm about helping others follow him.

I'm about my wife.

I'm about the Church and more specifically my church.

I'm about community.

I'm about cities. I live in DC, and my last three trips have been to Seattle, New York City, and Addis Ababa.

I'm about food. I especially love Chicago pizza, hot dogs and beef sandwiches, and if you grill meat I'll like it.

I'm about leadership, learning to lead myself and others well.

I'm about too much TV.

I'm about receiving grace and trying to get better at giving it.

I'm about reading and writing.

I'm about social media.

I'm about driving.

I'm about generosity.

I'm about being stressed and agitated but trying to change that.

I'm about my friends.

I'm about Sabbath.

I'm about poker.

I'm about competition and winning.

I'm about thinking and challenging and stretching my mind (and yours).

I'm about serving the vulnerable, because that's what Jesus is about.

I'm about integrity.

I'm trying to be about joy and intentionality.

I'm about theology.

I'm becoming about artistic expression and travel.

I used to be about politics.

I'm about exercise (sometimes).

What are you about?  Leave a comment below or better yet, write your own post and link back to mine.  I'll be sure to swing by your blog and check it out.

Photo by Flickr User gfpeck

The Story of Little John

One more update from Ethiopia, and one of the most significant experiences for me personally.  I wrote this on the seventh day of our trip, August 19.

Today is our second to last day in Ethiopia and our last full day with the boys. This morning I asked each member of the team to consider if there was anything they felt they needed to do before we left. There might have been an encouraging word to say to Adam, something to do with one of the boys, whatever.

I needed to spend some time with a young man named Yohannes. There are two Yohanneses in the house, but the Yohannes I was thinking of is called Tinnish Yohannes. Tinnish means little, so his name translates to “Little John.”

His name is fitting as he is not only the smaller of the two Yohanneses but is the smallest boy in the house and, at 13 or 14, the youngest as well.

It’s tough to get his whole story, but Beti, one of the mentors, told me that he had been on and off the streets since he was six or seven years old. Adam says that he’s their most difficult kid. It’s hard to get through to him.

Unsurprisingly, he also gets picked on by the other boys. He can be difficult, and as the smallest there’s not much he can do about it.

I had been trying to spend a bit of time with him over the past day or two, but today I decided I needed to make a focused effort.

I began simply by sitting down next to him while he was watching TV. He got up before too long and ended up playing basketball by himself while a lot of the boys were playing soccer. His isolation seems to be a pattern. He’s one of two boys who don’t sleep with the others.

I went over to play basketball with him and gave him some basic instructions on how to shoot, pass, and dribble. While nearly all of these boys can school me at soccer, as an American, I still have a significant edge in basketball know-how.

We played for quite a while. I would guess an hour to an hour-and-a-half. At one point he said, “Betam thank you.” Betam is a superlative, so he was essentially saying “Thank you very much” or “I really appreciate it.” I think that was a big step for Little John.

I continued to make it a point to be with him. When the boys had to go to collect firewood I went with him and we did it together. When we were sitting around the fire, I had him sit next to me. We ate dinner together, followed by reading a book and then watching a bit of TV.

He really seemed to open up. I think part of what he needs is someone to befriend him and really pay attention to him. Obviously every one of the boys needs that on some level, but I think he requires an extra level of care.

I’m obviously glad that I did what I did, but I also feel like it’s really not enough. There was a moment when I wondered if perhaps Rachel and I could adopt him, which was probably one of those crazy ideas you get when you’re on a missions trip. (Of course, sometimes I wonder if those are actually the best ideas.) Regardless, he still has family near Addis, so that’s not really a workable solution.

I will be praying for you, Little John. I wish I could do more.

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Blessed are Those who Mourn and You’re not Mourning Enough

I spent a lot of time meditating on the beatitudes before and during my trip to Ethiopia.  When I came to the second beatitude—blessed are those who mourn—I realized that most of us have far too little mourning in our lives.

Relational Missions

Yesterday as I reflected on our trip to Ethiopia, or perhaps more accurately reflected on our futures now that we have been to Ethiopia, there is one key aspect of mission trips, especially this one, that I failed to mention.

This trip wasn’t about producing a product, and it wasn’t even primarily about building relationships with the boys, although that was a huge part.

A large part of the reason we went, and an especially large part of the reason I went, was to support and encourage Adam. He’s a thirty-something Philly boy living in a foreign culture with fifteen former street boys.  Visitors from home can help soothe the homesickness and provide a much-needed infusion of energy and enthusiasm.

I had also mentioned that we spent most of a day on the trip simply continuing to build the relationship between NCC and Beza. There’s a Kingdom connection there that cannot be measured in dollars and cents.

Mission trips have the potential to accomplish something that cannot be counted by simple utilitarian measurements.  There’s something powerful about the Body of Christ spread across continents but united in heart and mission.

It was Christ himself who told us that the world would know we are His disciples because of our love for one another.

How do you judge the success of a mission trip? – Final reflections from Ethiopia

I’m at the tail end of a 17 hour plane ride from Addis Ababa to Washington DC, and I hadn’t left the Addis airport before real life began to set in.

I found myself frustrated with the innumerable and interminable airport lines, inattentive flight attendants, and an inbox full of email.

And that’s really the trick of a mission trip, isn’t it? How do we avoid returning to regularity? How do we translate the experiences from the trip into transformation at home? How do we reset our routines and establish a new normal?

By purely utilitarian standards, mission trips are a horribly inefficient use of resources. My team donated and raised somewhere around $16,000 to spend a week with the Change boys, and that doesn’t include money spent on vaccinations, medications, and other preparations.

If the sole outcome of our trip was a one-week investment in the lives of 15 boys, then we’ve wasted our time and money. Those funds could have paid for a full-time mentor for each boy for a year.

But one thing that cannot be replicated by writing a check is the transformational experience that can be had when we step outside of our lives and luxuries and engage with those who hold a special place in God’s heart. In our final debriefing we discussed how our lives need to be different now that we’ve had this experience.

As I think through the trip, I am quite satisfied with how things went, but I won’t truly know how successful the trip was until months from now. I won’t truly know until transformation can be seen (or not) in the lives of these seven men.

The Potential of a Street Boy – Ethiopia Day 7

Guest post by Jeff Hawley – Post written about the seventh day of the trip, August 19

I once heard someone say that great leaders first identify a gap and then find a way to fill it. After spending a week with The Change Boys I realized the capacity these boys have to become something great and realized the gap that Adam Taylor is trying to fill.

The potential you see in these boys is not something that any of us on this trip saw only once during this week, but it is something you see over and over and over again. I humbly experienced how great these boys can be many times while playing soccer with them today – I was schooled by Lilly, almost falling on my face, and he didn’t even have on shoes while playing on pavement.

As part of our camping trip over the past couple of days, we have been working with the boys on teamwork and problem solving exercises. Today, we split the boys into teams, gave them some materials (popsicle sticks, string, rubber bands, tape, etc.), and asked them to design something that could shoot a ping-pong ball. The teams then competed for the design that could first shoot the ball the farthest and then for accuracy.

I have to admit that I was not sure how well the teams would work collaboratively or what type of contraptions would result from this exercise. I was blown away; these boys did an AMAZING job on this challenge. They thought through their design, communicated to each other their plans, collaborated while building their design, equally participated in the competition, demonstrated great sportsmanship, and worked incredibly hard.

In the end, my team, Team A, won the both parts of the competition; we did have an advantage because Matasebia (ma-ta-say-be-ah) used his experience from the street with a slingshot and dominated the entre competition.

One year ago, these boys did not have very much hope and their potential was limited to selling gum on the streets; now, they have a new hope for in their future. What I learned was to not be so closed minded when looking at someone’s potential. When I look back on my life, I realize that the greatest opportunities presented to me where based on the potential that someone saw in me.

The Change for Change Ministry has completed their first year living with these 15 boys. My prayer for their next year is that they would exceed the limits they have set in their minds and realize their God given potential.

Camping Ethiopian Style – Ethiopia Day 6

Guest post by Andrew Miller – Post written about the sixth day of the trip, August 18

Camping! What red-blooded former street kid doesn’t like going to camp, playing sports, and swimming in a lake? Certainly, all of these boys do!

While here at the Bishoftu House Camp, we’re playing sports (I saw a game of soccer, volleyball, basketball, and tennis occurring simultaneously on the same court!); eating Ethiopian food in the dining hall (more shiro with beets and potatoes, anyone? And pass the injera bread, please.); swimming/teaching swimming (take a breath!); and learning more about each other through time in fellowship. It’s been great!

One of the things we did with the boys is play “initiative games.” Unlike regular games (e.g., dodgeball), initiative games have no winners and losers—it’s not even about successfully completing the challenge—it’s about trying, doing your best, and then reflecting on what you did to learn more about yourself and your team.

We played three games: Hot Lava, All Aboard, and the Spider Web.

  • In Hot Lava, you have to move your team across a distance while only being able to step on a small number of wooden blocks (we gave our group six blocks, and there were twelve of us).
  • In All Aboard, the entire group has to balance on a small block of wood.
  • In Spider Web, the group has to be passed through the holes in a “spider web” made of string.

Any way that allows the group to finish is a good way, and it was fun to watch my team (the A Team) work together to solve these challenges.

Afterwards, we reflect on each one to draw larger lessons: What happened? How did that make you feel? What did you like? What didn’t you like? Did the instructions become clearer as you were playing? If you could do it all over again, what would you do?

My hope is that they became better friends and deepened their bonds of community with one another.

Later that evening, Ermias, who works for a similar organization called Youth Impact, spoke to the boys about the importance of exceeding expectations and showing gratitude for what we have received.

Through Christ we have received life eternal, and through the Bible we know what is expected of us. In the initiative game of life, are we grateful? Are we striving to exceed Christ’s expectations?

When asked the reflection questions at the end of our days, would we be happy with our answers?

Hanging with Some Folks from Beza – Ethiopia Day 5

Post written at the end of the fifth day of the trip, August 17

Whew! Long day.

I was up at 6:20 AM for early morning prayer with the Beza staff and didn’t get home from dinner until 11 PM.

I’m having trouble trying to pick a highlight for today. It was a great day focused on continuing to build the relationship between NCC and Beza. For me this included…

  • Having breakfast with Dr. Betta, the head of Beza International Ministries and an incredible man with an incredible story.
  • Giving a homily at Beza’s staff prayer service.
  • Visiting one of Beza’s small groups. In fact, it was the same one I went to last year when I was here.
  • Eating an incredible hamburger for lunch.
  • Walking through the back streets of Merkato, the largest open-air market in Africa.
  • Buying furniture.

Okay, so those last three weren’t really about relationship building so much as fun.

Tomorrow we head out to a camp near Debrezayit with the Change boys. I expect spending two and a half days living with the boys will be both challenging and rewarding. We’ll likely be writing some reflections each day while we are there, but it is less likely that we’ll actually be able to post them until we get back.

Until then, ciao!

Ermias, Konji, and Impact Youth – Ethiopia Day 4

Guest post by Todd Michel – Post written at the end of the fourth day of the trip, August 16

Wow! What an amazing day in Addis Ababa. Today our team visited the ministries for Impact Youth. The three ministries are called Hope, Joy, and Love and I could not think of more appropriate names.

Hope house is their street boys ministry and our team got to meet the 12 boys and staff that live at the house. Each boy gave their story and I was amazed to hear how their lives were now filled with hope. It is a hope that has come from inviting Jesus into their hearts and knowing that their past sins have been forgiven. All of the boys hope to get jobs where they will have an opportunity to help other street boys.

The other two ministries are orphanages for girls and boys. We were only able to visit the girls ministry, and the girls were very happy and were eager to care for other children in the community.

I was also fortunate to hear from the two directors of Youth Impact about how their ministry was formed. A small group of Christians all decided to quit their jobs, moved into house together and studied the teachings of Jesus for a year. Only then did they start their ministries.

Their story is an illustration of how important it is to study the word of God before taking action. I am amazed by the passion and dedication of the two directors. In addition to directly serving their immediate community, they have also been great mentors for Adam. I am so happy to witness first hand how God is moving in Addis.

Imprisonment, Torture, and the Red Terror

Post written at the end of the third day of the trip, August 15

Today we visited the “Red Terror Martyrs” Memorial Museum, which recounts the horrors suffered by the people of Ethiopia at the hands of General Mengistu, the leader of the Derg ruling party.

 

As our impromptu tour began, seemingly just because we were a willing audience of foreigners, our guide spoke passionately about Ethiopia in the Derg regime, emphasizing repeatedly how a person or a group had been killed without due process.

I didn’t quite understand our guide’s passion until he revealed how he had been tortured in the traditional manner, hung from a pole cuffed and shackled as his feet were whipped. He described how prisoners would have their nipples pinched off toenails removed, and molars pulled with pliers. Women would suffer genital mutilation.

Formerly a monarchy, the government of Ethiopia was overthrown by a communist rebel movement known as the Derg after the Emperor, Haile Selassie, failed to respond to a terrible famine which killed countless people.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the Derg began greater abuses of power than Selassie ever had. Mengistu and the Derg tortured and killed hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians.

Perhaps the most powerful moment of the tour, aside from the personal revelation made by our guide, was when we stepped into a room, an ossuary of sorts, filled with the remains of those who had been killed. Pulled from mass graves there was shelf after shelf of human skulls and bones, most of which have never been identified.

In a society where speech is free and elections are democratic in theory but all too often not in reality, though it is 20 years after the overthrow of the Derg, the significance of this museum, recounting in vivid detail and depiction the horrors of a tyrannical government, simply overwhelmed me.

The museum’s slogan is “Never, ever again.” And our guide continued to say that we cannot forget what happened so that it will never happen again.

So that’s what this is, an attempt to honor that commitment to remember in an attempt to prevent… but what the astute reader may recall is that thousands were disappeared or jailed following protests against an unfair election in 2005, actions frighteningly reminiscent of the those taken by the current government’s predecessors.